Does Josh Rosen love football?
Jim Mora Jr. didn't answer the question right away. He said, "um," and then picked his words carefully.
Mora coached Rosen for three years at UCLA -- no coach knows Rosen better. No one is more equipped to explain how Rosen, the No. 1 quarterback in the nation when he came out of high school, and the No. 10 pick in the NFL draft, has fallen so short of expectations.
The 24-year-old quarterback already is on his fourth team. And if things don't work out with the 49ers, there probably won't be a fifth team.
So I went to Mora to find out more about Rosen. Here's the interview.
Q: Let's start with the positives. What does Josh Rosen do well?
MORA Jr.: "Josh has all the physical traits that you're looking for in a quarterback. He has the size, he has some durability, he has arm talent, he's a very intelligent young man, he can make every throw on the field, I think he has a good understanding for the game of football, at least he did at the collegiate level. Things change when you get to the pros.
"But there have been some things obviously that are holding him back. When you're the 10th pick in the draft and you've been on four teams in three or four years, that's something that people have to ask themselves hard questions about. From a physical standpoint, from a standpoint of being smart enough to play that position at a high level, he certainly has all of those traits."
Q: What does Rosen need to improve? What is holding him back?
MORA Jr.: "Josh has already had a reputation of being, um, a little bit different in terms of his personality. Josh is very very smart, and he lets you know he's very very smart. There are some coaches who don't necessarily take kindly to that. There are some players who don't necessarily take kindly to that.
"The bottom line here is this: If Josh had come into a locker room and shown the type of dedication, humbleness, work ethic, team-first attitude and ability to fit in, there's a good chance he would have stuck at one of those places. But that has been hard for Josh to do. I pull for him, because I think he's a really good person. I think he's like all of us -- we have our quirks, we have things that we need to work on.
"My hope for Josh is that he has found a situation now in San Francisco with a coach like Kyle Shanahan where he can humble himself and trust Kyle and believe in Kyle and listen to Kyle and react to Kyle. If he does those things and improves his work ethic a little bit, realizes that this is probably the last stop for him, he could have tremendous upside for the 49ers. There's no doubt in my mind that this guy has all the physical qualities to be a great player, and I don't say that lightly, because I take the word 'great' very seriously. But I see that in him, and I'm hoping that Kyle can be the coach who finally gets to him. I've tried, other coaches have tried as well and we haven't been able to do it."
Q: So he acts like he's the smartest man in the room and doesn't take coaching well?
MORA Jr.: "Some of the worst words you can use when you're trying to learn to be great is, 'I've got it.' And when I was with him -- I don't know how he is now -- he used that phrase too often. 'I've got it.' I'm just hopeful that at this point in his life and his career and his maturity that he realizes that he doesn't got it. That he needs to listen to other people. And I think if he does that, then he has a chance to be really special. If he doesn't do that, then he's going to find himself out of the league.
"What's great for Josh right now is it's entirely up to him which way his career goes. And he has faced so many changes through his young years in the NFL, and he has to figure it out. And you know what? My gut feeling is that he will. I'm just trying to be honest with you when I talk about some of the things that have held him back. The great thing is they're correctable. They're attitude adjustments and mindset adjustments."
Q: And he's still a young man. Do you feel that deep down he loves football?
MORA Jr.: (Brief pause). Um, that's a great question. I think the only person who can truly answer that is Josh. I've been fortunate to be around some pretty darn good football players, and all of them had a passion to prepare, they had a standard they set for themselves in terms of their performance, they had a work ethic that was beyond reproach. It just oozed from their pores that they loved football, that they loved to compete, that they had to win, that they were pushing every day to be the very best that they could be, that they were doing everything, saying everything, taking every action they could to be great. They were able to combine that mindset and that attitude with physical skills that pushed them to be great.
"I think it remains to be seen with Josh if that's the case. I think it's a little unfair, even for me who knows him so well, to judge him harshly at this point in time, because you've mentioned now a couple times, he's still young. Back in the olden days, and the not-so-olden days even, guys didn't start to really put their feet on the field and play in regular season games until they'd seasoned a little bit, they'd played a few years behind someone who had some maturity and understood the pro game and understood the commitment it takes, especially at the quarterback position, to be great.
"I don't know that Josh was ever afforded that in the pros. In college, I surrounded him with guys who I thought could help him. I brought Troy Aikman in to speak with him. Sent him down to Peyton Manning's Academy to work with Peyton. Tried to put the great ones in front of him so he had an opportunity to learn from them."
Q: I was talking to a young man who attended that passing academy, and he said Josh was his counselor, and said Josh was really nice, really bright, but he was late every day.
MORA Jr.: "Yeah."
Q: Do you think the 49ers can bring out the best in him?
MORA Jr.: "I do. And that's why I'm so hopeful for Josh. You take all the factors involved, the fact that he has bounced around a bit, that he was the 10th pick, that he shouldn't have bounced around the way he has, when he ended up going to San Francisco I was excited for him. I thought this is finally the right spot for Josh Rosen. I think this is where he can finally flourish, he can finally reach his potential, he can leave all the negative baggage behind, he can turn the page, he can change people's opinions and he can have success.
"If you don't walk in with immediate respect for Kyle Shanahan, then you know what? You're a fool. And fools don't last in the NFL. And Josh Rosen is no fool. I think he realizes at this point in his career that the heavens set it up for him, and now it's up to Josh to take advantage. And if he does, it's a win for Josh and it's a win for the 49ers because he's a truly talented, and I'm going to tell you something else. He's a really good person. He's like all young people -- they're going through a learning curve. But he's a good young man. I like him, I respect him. My family likes him, we respect him. We're close to his family and I pull for him."
Q: I pull for him too, because I'm Jewish, and I can't help but identify with him. And I feel like if I had been a football and tennis prodigy at 14, I would have been a jerk. I couldn't have handled that.
MORA Jr.: "But Josh is not a jerk. There's no jerk to Josh. Listen, he was a great teammate, he's a really good friend, his friends love him, he treats people right -- he's just a little quirky, and that's because he's young and he's learning. I've been around a lot of players in my career who go through these phases, and then all of a sudden it clicks, and they mature to the level they need to mature to have success in the NFL. They decide that they're going to hold themselves to a particular standard and they're going to open their ears and listen before they talk, and they're going to take in information. It's OK to question things, but you don't have to question everything. There are those out there who know a little bit more than you, who are a little bit more skilled, a little bit more experienced.
"And my hope for Josh is that he comes to that realization. Because like I said, I think that he's in the perfect spot for success. I'm hoping that we look back and say, 'Dang, how did Josh Rosen end up with the 49ers? What a crazy path he took.' And then I hope at some point he can become a mentor to some other young players who are struggling with the dynamics of professional football, or like you said, having been a prodigy. Having been told since you were 14 that you were the greatest ever. That has a lasting imprint on you that's not necessarily your fault.
"My feelings for him aren't about those three years at UCLA. It's about knowing him since he was about 15, watching him grow, knowing what the truth of his heart is and hoping that he can get to where he really wants to be, and hoping he understands what it will take to get to where he really wants to be."